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AS and A Level: Macbeth

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The historical context surrounding 'Macbeth'

  1. 1 Macbeth was written in 1606 when Shakespeare was 42 years old. The acting company who would have performed the play was called the King’s Men and their patron was King James I who had come to the throne in 1603.
  2. 2 Macbeth was probably written to please the King; the setting of the play with specific scenes at Inverness, Scone, Fife and Dunsinane would have appealed to King James, who also ruled over Scotland.
  3. 3 King James had brought unity to Scotland and England when he came to the throne and this is referred to in Macbeth when the English, under Edward, and the Scottish, under Malcolm, are united to overthrow Macbeth.
  4. 4 In Macbeth Shakespeare reinforces the Divine Right of Kings, the idea that the power of the king is something that is granted by God and the murder of a king is a crime against God Himself. This links to King James as he had been threatened by an assassination attempt – the Gunpowder Plot.
  5. 5 To celebrate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot, a special medallion was made with the symbol of treachery on it: an image of a flower with a serpent lurking beneath it. There is a reference to this in the play when Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under it”.

The themes of 'Macbeth'

  1. 1 Witchcraft and the supernatural – The play opens with the witches who create an atmosphere of evil and disorder which sets the scene for Macbeth’s downfall. The witches’ prophecies control Macbeth’s actions through his own ambition and lead him to his destruction.
  2. 2 Concealing the truth – Throughout the play many characters put on metaphorical masks to hide their true nature, thoughts or feelings; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hide their true selves, Banquo hides his mistrust of Macbeth, Malcolm pretends he is evil in order to test Macduff.
  3. 3 Ambition – Macbeth was driven by his own and Lady Macbeth’s ambition. They were not satisfied with being of high status as Lord and Lady but wanted more power and were driven on by the witches’ prophecies.
  4. 4 Order and disorder – Throughout the play there are references to unnatural things happening; the natural order of things is changed by the unnatural act of Macbeth killing the King. It starts with the thunder and lightning in the opening scene and then follows with the witches speeches of supernatural acts.
  5. 5 Manhood – Lady Macbeth calls on the spirits to unsex her to make her more like a man so that she will have the strength to carry out the murder of Duncan. She also questions Macbeth’s manhood when he is having doubts about killing Duncan.

Macbeth as a tragic figure

  1. 1 At the beginning of the play Macbeth has a position of great importance and comes from a noble background. He is well respected and admired by everyone, especially King Duncan.
  2. 2 Macbeth has a flaw in his character so that his virtues are turned to vices and he begins to lose self-control. The witches tell him that he will become King but he cannot wait for it to happen and so determines his own fate by killing Duncan, which then leads to other murders.
  3. 3 The witches and Lady Macbeth contribute to his downfall, but essentially he brings about his own destruction and ultimate death.
  4. 4 In the inevitable process of Macbeth’s downfall he causes the suffering of innocent people – Duncan, Banquo, Macduff’s family and possibly Lady Macbeth.
  5. 5 At the end of the play the audience feels pity for Macbeth because he was originally a good man but was tempted by the idea of kingship and power. If he had responded differently then he might have still achieved greatness.

  • Marked by Teachers essays 10
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  1. Marked by a teacher

    It is not only the heros character that feeds into the construction of a tragedy; external events also play a part. Does either one of these components have, in your opinion, an overriding influence on Macbeth, or do they make an equal contr

    4 star(s)

    Also blurred are the lines between what is truly 'good' or 'evil', and if we can truly take any comfort in either of these terms. From the outset of Macbeth, we are told of the power of the eponym on the battlefield, and of the way he 'unseams' enemy soldiers, which immediately signifies his aggression, and hints at the possibility of an 'unseam'd' mind; indeed, Shakespeare uses just that same graphic vocabulary to describe the violence of the act - "unseam'd him from the knave to th'chops" - giving an impression of extreme violence, beyond that which is necessary.

    • Word count: 1795
  2. Marked by a teacher

    Villain or victim? Is Macbeth a victim of external circumstances or a man solely driven by evil?

    4 star(s)

    Angus awakens Macbeth to the idea by telling him of the Thane of Cawdor's downfall and Macbeth's first thought is of the future, 'The greatest is behind.'. This shows Macbeth's eagerness to be King, indeed it is at the forefront of his mind and he seems hurt and amazed when Malcolm is appointed as Duncan's successor '...That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap', And already his flaw, his relentless ambition is evident. Yet Macbeth's nobility and honour stands in the way of his aspirations.

    • Word count: 1804
  3. Marked by a teacher

    Explore the impact of the witches in Act One Scenes One and Three

    3 star(s)

    King James was petrified of witches, but also very interested in them and even wrote his own book about them. The amount of information which we get from Scene one is also something to consider as it is such a small scene. To begin with, let us look at the atmosphere which Shakespeare has made at the beginning of the play. He uses thunder to immediately grab the audience's attention and to make them silent. The thunder also makes a connection to the witches, as they were known for being the creators of bad weather.

    • Word count: 1481
  4. Marked by a teacher

    Discuss the soliloquy in Act III, i. How does Shakespeare convey the change in Macbeth since the soliloquy in Act I, vii?

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    In this soliloquy, he is yet, "th'innocent flower" and moreover, he displays his judiciousness as a brave warrior by contemplating the consequences of murdering the King: something Lady Macbeth does not bother to do in her attempt to convert her husband into a sinister character. In addition, Shakespeare uses euphemism to give the impression that Macbeth is keeping the murder covert by avoiding using the actual word, 'murder'. Instead, he uses words such as "this blow" and "the deed" to camouflage the murder, even from his own conscience because it is so dreadful.

    • Word count: 1441
  5. Marked by a teacher

    Is Macbeth a Hero or a Butcher?

    3 star(s)

    A 'butcher', in this context, is someone who kills people cruelly without feeling guilt or remorse - something which Macbeth is a clear example of. Macbeth's actions at the start of the play are already depicted as barbaric. When the Captain describes the battle between Macbeth and the rebel Macdonwald, he claims that Macbeth split Macdonwald open "from the nave to the chops." This is clearly a gruesome way of killing someone. While a Jacobean audience may not have found this too revolting, a modern audience would certainly find Macbeth's actions unacceptable.

    • Word count: 1018
  6. Marked by a teacher

    How does Shakespeare present Macbeth in a way that allows us to feel sympathy for him?

    3 star(s)

    However it is Malcolms perspective which is only an opinion from the outside, which he has every reason to believe that Macbeth is a butcher as he has killed Malcolms family. However, we have a different opinion to Malcolm because we have a different view about Macbeth as we have an insight into what he is thinking through his soliloquies. There are many points in the play where Shakespeare creates sympathy for Macbeth. I felt that most sympathy was created in scene 5.

    • Word count: 1180
  7. Describe how Macbeths decision to kill King Duncan has brought about change within his character

    This quote by the three witches' is a promise on Macbeth's future. This false promise plants a dark hope within Macbeth. Through the witches' visit, we can identify that Macbeth is not only a man of honour, but also a man who also holds great ambition. "Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more." This quote by Macbeth clearly notifies how the witches visit starts Macbeth's growing ambition to become the next King of Scotland. After Macbeth's return from the battle, Macbeth is soon named the 'Thane of Cawdor'. With Macbeth titled the Thane of Cawdor, the promise of the witches begins to seem so realistic for him, therefore he starts to be pushed by an ambitious idea that he could become king.

    • Word count: 1070
  8. The violence in the play is excessive and therefore ineffective. Is this view of "Macbeth" accurate?

    However, violence can be seen as effective, bringing in many factors, such as that of the supernatural elements. Shakespeare exposes us to a dark setting, an apt imagery for the evil occurrences that shall come. Macbeth's famous soliloquy at the beginning of this act introduces an important theme: visions and hallucinations caused by guilt. Macbeth's trepidation about the murder is echoed by several portentous sounds and visions, the famous hallucinatory dagger being the most striking. The "dagger of the mind" that Macbeth sees is not "ghostly" or supernatural so much as a manifestation of the inner struggle that Macbeth feels as he contemplates the regicide; 'the dagger come toward my hand?'

    • Word count: 1224
  9. In William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, the protagonist, Macbeth, becomes a tragic hero as a result of suffering from a fatal flaw that eventually leads to his own death. Macbeth possesses many characteristics of a tragic hero,

    It is Macbeth's bravery that easily wins him the trust and love of King Duncan. By defending his nation and having no fear for his own life, Macbeth, in the king's eyes, deserved the title of Thane of Cawdor. Because Macbeth is already crowned with the title of Thane of Glamis, his new title, Thane of Cawdor makes him more noble than he already is. "What he hath lost, Macbeth hath won" (I, ii, 68). This means that Macbeth is worthy of receiving his new title, and that what the former Thane has lost - his life and his title - Macbeth has won or gained.

    • Word count: 1220
  10. Macbeth as a fallen hero. Two paths lay in front of Macbeth, two choices, and inevitably Macbeth chose the path of power and immorality.

    Love for his wife, his kingdom and truly his king whom he was considered "his kinsman", "his subject". A man who was recognized as "brave Macbeth", who's skills and courage were compared to "Bellona's bridegroom", the god of war, to show that Macbeth himself surpassed any man, and was only equal to that of a god himself. But, not only were his fighting skills impeccable, but his will to sacrifice, as he is compared to "another Golgotha". That in fact he is not only fighting for himself, but fighting for his people, his country and the king; the king who sat in "his great office".

    • Word count: 1681
  11. Early in the play, the other characters portray Macbeth as a hero and a brilliant warrior, even before he has made an appearance. Shakespeare uses this to his advantage

    From this we see the other characters opinions are followed through as we can clearly see how great and bold warrior he is. From this it helps me admire his great courage and patriotism. When Macbeth meets the three witches after returning from the battle with his best friend Banquo, he is told three prophesies: he will become, Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Glamis and also to become King. Macbeth knows that the Thane of Glamis has been killed and that he will inherit the title, but the Thane of Cawdor is still alive so surely he could not be.

    • Word count: 1546
  12. Will of Macbeth

    He is able to formulate his own thoughts, with no background influence. He has free will at last. Earlier in the play, Macbeth's partner Lady Macbeth persuades her husband to commit murder and fulfill his ambition. The three witches and their Queen influence Macbeth's decisions through the use of predictions as well as the supernatural. Lastly, the three apparitions conjured by the witches play a very crucial role in establishing Macbeth's fate through their deceptively uplifting prophecies. Due to these negative and overwhelming influences, Macbeth essentially holds no sense of free will.

    • Word count: 1659
  13. The significance of the madness in Macbeth

    In this great piece of literature, Shakespeare expresses madness in two forms; troubled sleep and hallucination. Both of these representations of madness was strategically incorporated by Shakespeare to illustrate the irony of the destruction of the characters, Macbeth as well as Lady Macbeth, who were first introduced as powerful, courageous, and confident. Throughout the play Macbeth, the theme of madness is ever-present due to its importance as a contributor to the readers' understanding of the development of the characters and the main moral lesson embedded in the play. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth was depicted as a noble, courageous, and loyal knight.

    • Word count: 1201
  14. The role of secondary characters in Shakespeare's Macbeth

    In the play, Macbeth's love for her describes her importance in his life and how she functions as a cause and foil of all his actions. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is illustrated as a noble and heroic man. This portrayal of Macbeth, however, is significantly changed after Lady Macbeth read his letter regarding his encounter with the three witches and advised him to carry out an unlawful deed. Shakespeare created this controversial representation of a married couple when he portrays Lady Macbeth to be the one that is dictating Macbeth.

    • Word count: 1500
  15. Macbeth

    We first see 'Lady Macbeth' appear in the play when she is reading a letter from her husband, Macbeth. He addresses her as "My dearest partner of greatness", we get the impression he is very much in love with his wife. This was unusual as in the time that the play was wrote most marriages were arranged over land and money After 'Lady Macbeth' has finished reading the letter she says, "Glamis thou art, and Cowdor and shalt be what thou art promised, yet do I fear thou nature is to full o' th' milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way".

    • Word count: 1839
  16. Macbeth Essay: Who is responsible for the death of Duncan?

    Immediately after hearing the witches' foresight, he is very interested, and asks to ''tell me more''. The ease at which evil has Macbeth wanting more information suggests that Macbeth might have subconsciously wanted to commit the murder anyway, as if the prophecy is just a trigger for an inevitable course of action, signified when Macbeth declares ''if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me''. Shakespeare emphasises the repeated use of the words describing destiny. This sense of necessity could be the way Macbeth is justifying the act, to feebly satisfy his human apprehensions and ethical conflicts.

    • Word count: 1068
  17. Relationships between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth

    However, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's initially harmonious relationship is gradually crushed by their vaulting ambition, cruel actions and the dire consequences. In the beginning of the play the established relations between Lady Macbeth and her husband are destroyed by the new, persistent thought of appropriation of power, which eventually evolves into dangerous obsession. From the start Macbeth refers to his wife as "my dearest partner of greatness" (I, v, 11-12). Later, the letter, which he sends to her as soon as he understands that he has been made "Thane of Cawdor", reveals his true attachment to his wife.

    • Word count: 1133
  18. However Macbeth tries to escape the Witch's wicked, but truthful words, he may also have brought his fate upon himself

    Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor! "All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! "All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter. (Quotes from 1:3 46-50, Macbeth) This seems an odd greeting to Macbeth at first however he soon realizes these are true, when he learns of the Thane of Cawdor's death. The Witch's also give Banquo a prediction telling him that his sons will be kings. At first these prophecies intrigue Macbeth, however he knows if he truly wants to become king he must kill the present one. So of course he does and the plot thickens.

    • Word count: 1098
  19. Explore the ways that witchcraft is presented in ''Macbeth'' and compare the way we may wish to present it today

    The number three was seen to have magical powers, "And thrice again, to make up nine." This shows us that the spell the witches are concocting is going to be almost indestructible because it is three times three, which makes nine; therefore, the spell is going to be three times as powerful. The thematic effect that the witches have on the play is that they create a conflict between good and evil, and they relate disorder to witchcraft, which then contrasts to the order and goodness of the natural world.

    • Word count: 1735
  20. Shakespeare portrays the witches in what seems to a 21st century audience a stereotypical way. There are many things that come to mind when we hear the word witches: Halloween

    When James I came to the throne, believing himself to be God's representative on earth he considered himself the main target of the witches. He published his own book on witches called 'Demonology' in which he listed their powers such as the ability to curse, and therefore made a law that practising witches should be executed. It is clear, therefore, that Shakespeare's witches are rooted firmly in English popular tradition. Act 1 scene 1 opens with the entrance of the witches; accompanied by thunder and lightning.

    • Word count: 1495
  21. Macbeth Coursework

    During Elizabethan times people were fascinated by the thought of witchcraft and wizardry. This was believed by many people throughout the reign of Elizabeth I. Prosecution reached terrifying proportions. Between 1560 and 1603 hundreds of people (nearly all women) were convicted as witches and executed. Shakespeare used this fascination of witches in Macbeth to get the audience's beliefs and fears of witches to create tension within the theatre. By having witches in his play Shakespeare could reinforce the belief of witches in the audiences' minds'. In scene 1 the third witch mentions Macbeth's name. This makes the audience think about why the witches are saying his name so early on in the play.

    • Word count: 1345
  22. What prevents Macbeth from being nothing more than the story of a ruthless and ambitious murderer?

    Macbeth shows great allegiance to Scotland and King Duncan in the beginning of the play. Duncan learns through a wounded captain, who also fought in the war, that Macbeth has shown great bravery in the battle with Macdonwald and the Norwegian army and that only by this, victory could be achieved. Afterwards the king of Scotland regards Macbeth as trustworthy and proves this by awarding him with the title of Thane of Cawdor. From the outside Macbeth also is seen as a very honorable man, showing how good his character is before being infiltrated with ambitions by the witches.

    • Word count: 1663
  23. Is ambition the root of Macbeth's downfall?

    The witches are only responsible for the introduction of these ideas to Macbeth; they are not responsible for his actions throughout the play. Yet their meddling inevitably causes a change within Macbeth. This is the growth of his ambition from his previous state. From being a good and honest man, Macbeth transforms into a conniving plotter against the King: 'The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step/On which I must fall down. Or else o'erleap,/For in my way it lies.

    • Word count: 1206
  24. Discuss the role of the witches in Macbeth

    The witches are introduced into the play immediately and this is a good attention grabber and helps to set the mood of the play. The powers of the witches are shown straight away, we are told of the powers of the witches and how they can change the weather and predict the future. These things aren't actually proven and the witches are thought of to be equivocators. The witches are made to sound more evil and witch-like by the fact they speak in a different way to the rest of the characters in the play, most of the play is

    • Word count: 1542
  25. Discuss Shakespeare's presentation of the witches in Macbeth. How dramatically effective is the presentation-?

    We are told of the witches' wickedness when we are initially presented with a picture of Macbeth being " Full of the milk o' human kindness" but this is presented with a moral challenge or blemish. The witches posses ambiguous powers which prove important and manifest in the play. Our first acquaintance with the witches is in Act 1 scene 1 of the play. Shakespeare makes it apparent that the witches are obviously going to play a major role in the play by opening it with them.

    • Word count: 1569

Conclusion analysis

Good conclusions usually refer back to the question or title and address it directly - for example by using key words from the title.
How well do you think these conclusions address the title or question? Answering these questions should help you find out.

  1. Do they use key words from the title or question?
  2. Do they answer the question directly?
  3. Can you work out the question or title just by reading the conclusion?
  • Explore the ways that witchcraft is presented in ''Macbeth'' and compare the way we may wish to present it today

    "In conclusion to this we can see that the witches knew what would happen once they had given the prophecies to Macbeth, however, they did not tell him what to do, therefore he acted out of his own intention and for his own personal benefit. This shows us that human nature, if provoked, can be destructive and can destroy that around us and should in all honesty be more feared than witchcraft itself. Even though, people in modern times are not frightened of witches and magic, it all comes back to hunger for power and money and that is how Macbeth came to become a murderous, over-ambitious man, because he feared that he would not become rich and powerful. So even though we are not still afraid of witches, we still kill for money and power, and this is an issue carried through from the 16th century and before, to today."

  • To What Extent Do Feel That Roman Polanski's Interpretation Of The Witches Is In Keeping With Shakespeare's Text?

    "After comparing and contrasting Roman Polanski's film version of Mac Beth to that of the original text. I have come to the conclusion that in Polanski interpretation he has indeed kept very much in line with the text. Polanski has added an even more cathartic feeling to the end of the play than already exists by using the fight scene, which shows that even though Mac Beth knows he is defeated and is going to die he does not surrender and fights like a true hero to the death. The changes he made to his film furthered the excellence that the play already possesses and they were very innovative and creative."

  • What is the role of the Witches and to what extent are they responsible for Macbeth's tragic end.

    "Knowing the information that Macbeth did the deed himself I have drawn the conclusion that because he was pressured into doing the murder I would say that he is the least responsible for his tragic end. I would say that Lady Macbeth is the next least responsible but she did not do the deed however she really pushed Macbeth to do it. The most responsible would be the witches as they first put the idea in his head and then say that he is invincible to all "woman born"."

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